Brier Hill festival to offer taste of old Italian neighborhood


vindicator entertainment writer

YOUNGSTOWN — The Brier Hill Italian Festival — one of the longest-running Italian festivals in the city — returns this week.

“Everybody waits for this one,” said Claire Maluso, co-chairwoman of the festival. “A lot of people who were born and raised in Brier Hill come back. We get jammed. Plus, a lot of people somehow have a connection to Brier Hill.”

The North Side neighborhood was once the premiere Italian immigrant destination for Youngstown. “It’s where the Italian community came to in Youngstown,” said Maluso. “The area is reminiscent of Italy, because if you go to Italy, you’ll see it’s all hills and dales.”

The four-day festival opens Thursday. Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday and noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday.

The fest features a full schedule of live music, games and vendors. It also has plenty of food, including Brier Hill pizza, the neighborhood’s namesake, with its sweet pepper-ladened sauce and Romano cheese topping.

The festival is on Calvin and Victoria streets, which will be blocked off. Proceeds benefit the sponsor, ITAM Memorial Post 12.

Maluso started the Brier Hill festival 17 years ago, after the Greater Youngstown Italian Festival left the city. The GYIF moved back downtown two years ago.

“The mayor asked me if I could start another Italian festival when [the GYIF] left town, and I said yes, but it will have to be in Brier Hill, the old, authentic Italian neighborhood.”

The Brier Hill festival has steadily grown in size each year, she said.

Each year, the Brier Hill festival honors its Man of the Year, an honor that will go to Joe Marsco this year.

Marsco, 57, is the son of Joe and Minnie Mele Marsco, who were among the first settlers of the neighborhood.

A graduate of The Rayen School, Marsco is known for telling stories about the old neighborhood.

He remains a member of St. Anthony’s Church on Brier Hill.

He entered the food business at age 20, working at Lavanty’s Pizza. He would later become the manager of Avalon Gardens restaurant.

In 1997, Marsco opened Joe’s Restaurant on Belmont Avenue in Liberty.

A member of the BHIF committee for 17 years, Marsco also serves his food at the festival.

Marco has two children: Melissa, an accountant in Youngstown; and Joe, a chef and restaurant manager in Las Vegas.

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